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NYC To Remove Mentally Ill From Streets Against Their Will

Acting to address “a crisis we see all around us” in a year that has seen a string of high-profile crimes involving homeless people, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a major push to remove people with severe, untreated mental illness from the city’s streets and subways. Adams, who has made clearing homeless encampments a priority since taking office in January, said the effort would require involuntarily hospitalizing people who were a danger to themselves, even if they posed no risk of harm to others, arguing the city had a “moral obligation” to help them, the New York Times reports. “The common misunderstanding persists that we cannot provide involuntary assistance unless the person is violent,” Adams said. “Going forward, we will make every effort to assist those who are suffering from mental illness.”

The mayor’s announcement comes at a key moment in the debate about rising crime and the role of the police, especially in dealing with people who are already in fragile mental health. Republicans, as well as tough-on-crime Democrats like Adams, a former police captain, have argued that growing disorder calls for more aggressive measures. Left-leaning advocates and officials who dominate New York politics say that deploying the police as auxiliary social workers may do more harm than good. Other cities have struggled with how to help homeless people, especially those dealing with mental illness. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that could force some homeless people with disorders like schizophrenia into treatment. Many states have laws that allow for involuntary outpatient treatment, and Washington State allows people to be committed to hospitals if a judge finds that they pose a threat to themselves or others. New York City will start training immediately to police officers, Emergency Medical Services staff and other medical personnel to “ensure compassionate care.” The city’s new directive acknowledges that “case law does not provide extensive guidance regarding removals for mental health evaluations based on short interactions in the field.” The policy raises questions about who, exactly, would be swept up in it, and some advocates for people with mental illness warned it could face legal challenges.

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